08 Jan 6 Productivity hacks: how to be more productive and get more done
Of all the skills – creativity, financial management, leadership – ‘being productive’ is one of the most important skills any entrepreneur, business owner or self confessed ‘busy person’ will ever develop.
And it is a skill. We’re not born ‘productive’. We have to learn how to prioritise the right tasks and get what really matters done. Sometimes it goes against what we’re raised to do, which might include making people happy and creating happy, harmonious relationships. The truth of it that sometimes we have to say no to what people want from us in order to prioritise what really matters.
In his new book ‘High Performance Habits’, Brendon Burchard refers to ‘what really matters’ as PQO: Prolific Quality Output – producing more of what really matters to the growth of your business than anything else. For the writer this might be producing more books. For the athlete, this might be attending more race day competitions. For the baker, it might be baking more cakes.
You see, as business owners, there is so much to do every single day and it’s easy to become so tied down in admin and emails that we forget what really matters.
And so in this blog, I want to share with you my best productivity hacks: how I get more of what matters really done.
Knowing what will make your goals inevitable
The first hack is to be absolutely clear on what you’re trying to achieve and what will make those outcomes inevitable. I’m being really serious here: what are you trying to do? What impact are you trying to have? What do you want to be celebrating in 12 months time? If you don’t know, right now off the cuff, then how can you possibly be productive? Productivity is the skill of getting more of ‘what matters’ done. But it you don’t know what you’re trying to do then how will know if what you’re doing matters? I hope that doesn’t come across as being too harsh – it’s the first key of productivity: defining the impact you want to have.
For example, I have one major goal this year, just one and it’s to take 150 people through my online course Make Your Move. I know that there are three major projects that will make this inevitable: (1) updating and refilming aspects of my course to keep it bang up to date, (2) providing insane value to people up front in the form of blogs and vlogs so they know whether the course is right for them and (3) ranking page 1 on Google for ‘how to change your life’.
Because I’m crystal clear on this, I now know where and how I need to spend my time. These three activities (course content, value content and seo content) not only come top of my to do list every single day but if you look at my calendar you’ll see significant blocks of time assigned to these three things. And I’m very serious about sitting down in those time blocks and doing the work. I am my own client in those sessions and moving them would be like moving client meetings.
Being disciplined about the process
Being disciplined is not about being militant. It’s about being clear on what needs to happen and then sitting your butt in the chair to make it happen. But here’s the key – lots of people have discipline and they express it by sitting in that chair allll day and keeping on top of emails or hitting other people’s deadlines. Bleugh!
When it comes to being productive, the real discipline lies in knowing what matters and ruling out distractions to get that done.
For example, I create a vlog nearly every single day. It’s a video log of my day; a behind the scenes look at what I’m doing to change my life and make a living doing what I love. It takes discipline to film every single day but where the real discipline is required is in sticking to the routine of editing a vlog at the right time every single day.
In the beginning, I’d be editing until 2am and sometimes 3am in the morning. Sometimes I’d miss a launch time because it had gotten too late and I had to sleep. I knew this was output that mattered (my PQO at the moment) and I knew that this approach was not sustainable. I was going to burn myself out. And so, the discipline comes in the form of (1) taking all content off my camera every single day so that episode is on my lap top and ready to be edited, (2) putting my camera battery on charge every single night without fail (3) editing the vlog between 4-7pm every single day and (4) going to bed at a decent time so I’m rested and ready to go again the next day…you can’t hide tiredness and poor planning when you’re vlogging daily. It soon catches up with you!
Touching the piece of paper once
I used to work for the retailer Aldi on their graduate scheme. It was amazing (but tough!) and if there’s one thing I learnt from their training it was how to be productive. So much so that we were challenged if we walked from one end of the store to the other empty handed. Were there no boxes we take out to the warehouse? Was there not a tray of deliveries we could bring back when we returned from the warehouse. Everywhere we went was with purpose and there were no wasted journeys.
They had a principle: only touch the piece of paper once. This means that when you sit down to do your admin, deal with the thing in front of you through to completion and mark it as done rather than going back to it time and time again.
It makes me laugh because how many of us ‘check’ or ‘sort’ or even open our emails with no real intention of replying or acting on them. We just go through them and think ‘yup I’ll reply to that one tonight’. I know I’ve been guilty of this in the past so let’s use this example.
Emails are a bugar! People fire them off willy nilly and copy in anyone they fancy. Often people send emails so they can tick an item off their list and they don’t really have any concern for the real output – we might call this ‘chucking the action over the fence to the next person’. I’m a fanatic when it comes to emails. I like to reply once, with everything the client needs to make a decision. For example, if it’s to arrange a meeting I don’t say ‘shall we meet on Wednesday?’ I’d try to say ‘I have two options 9 – 9:30 on Wednesday morning or 2:30 – 3:00pm on Wednesday afternoon. If neither of those times work, please do suggest timings on Thursday morning or Friday afternoon and I’ll accommodate’.
Time is precious and it’s a waste of time going back and forth without clarity.
Now, I aim to check my emails twice a day. Once at 11am and once at 5pm. I reply and action everything at those times and turn them off for the rest of the day. This helps me to deal with them then and there and not lose attention on other important jobs during the day! I mean how distracting is it when you’re in the flow and an email pops up ‘URGENT’?
Is it? Is it really?
Doing your thing first
If there’s one thing I’ve learnt about being productive, it’s (1) to do what matters most to your dream life first and (2) to challenge people on their requests.
(1) When trying to change your life and build your dream business, there are so many things going against you: time, lack of resources, tiredness, ‘working in your business vs. working on your business’. It’s therefore really important to find out what that PQO is (to use Brendon’s term) and then do that thing first. Get up nice and early and get it done! Once it’s done, it doesn’t matter how much time you waste in the day: the thing that matters is done and your business will grow. Not that I encourage time wasting, of course!!
(2) When someone emails you to insist a tasks is done right away or suggests it would be great to hear back today, reply with fairness and make your working preferences clear as soon as possible. If you reply to every email immediately and hop on every task without delay people will expect that from you and you’ll be tied to your emails. Instead you might reply with, “I’ve picked up your email and wanted to let you know I’ve booked that work out for Friday 12pm. I’ll update you on Friday afternoon on progress”. This tells people what’s happening and gives you a clear time in your diary to action the request. The key is to then put it in your diary and do it at that time so the client knows they can rely on you to follow through. They’ll then feel relaxed when you reply like this again because they know it’s going to get done and they’ll also know to give you as much warning as possible to ensure there task gets booked in.
Switch off completely…and sleep my friend!
This Christmas and New Year and switched off completely. I turned off my emails, I stopped vlogging and I even stopped going on social media. In fact, I think I may even have been a little late replying to messages of Merry Christmas! I needed the break and it did me the world of good. I came back rested, fired up and ready to plough through what mattered. And my work productivity went through the roof!
The holidays are a great time to switch off but you don’t need to wait until then. You can switch off every single day and even after every single task.
I used to be such a bugar for working hard, not productively. I’d start at 5am (I’m not joking) and work through until midnight (again, I’m not joking). I was younger then and my body could just about manage it but I often finished the day feeling ‘spent’ and wondering what it was all for. Without the time off to do what I loved and hang out with the people who mattered, I had just become a workhorse and it felt awful.
Slowly but surely I started introducing walks into my day. A quick walk to the park over lunch, an evening stroll before dinner. When we moved to Tynemouth I fell in love with the beach and me and Alice started heading out there every single day for hour long walks over lunch to clear our heads. Now, I run along the beach nearly every single day and we’ll often go on two walks a day, especially when we’re working on a big project.
At first you think ‘I don’t have time – I must be at my desk’ but that’s rubbish. Taking a proper break, clearing your head and reconnecting with people and nature will help you sky rocket your productivity because you come back to your desk feeling rested, connected and revitalised.
Clear it quickly to make way for what matters
Some tasks won’t drive your business forward but they are unavoidable. Booking travel in advance to save money, filing your receipts properly to manage your expenses, getting your insurance sorted to protect you and your clients.
We all have these tasks that we’d love to avoid but they’re essential for the success of your business. For tasks like this you have two options (1) Outsource them to someone who loves admin or (2) Just get them done and get them done quickly. Option number 3 (avoid them until they’re pressing or hope they go away) is not an option at all! And yet so many of us opt for number 3 and endure the anxiety, worry and nagging in our mind of not having done it.
Sometimes you have to bite the bullet and get it done. For me, having the right processes in my business helps. With expenses and receipts for example, I set up spreadsheeet on Excel where I can quickly list my expenses as they occur. Each month, I duplicate the tab on Excel so it’s ready to go and I get a new envelope and label it ‘January 2018’. Each week, I add my receipts to the envelope as they come up and at the end of the month, I seal up the envelope and store it ready for the accountant. This way my receipts are safe and I don’t have bits of paper in boxes, pockets and piled up on my desk. I set up a process to make managing it fun. And now I feel a certain sense of pride over those little envelopes!
It might be a small example but the point is that processes will help you be more productive. What’s your process for replying to emails? What’s your process for booking travel? What’s your process for expenses? Even small businesses need process because these are what you scale as you grow your business.
Looking for more?
Here’s the process I follow to decide what’s really important in my life and business. This is how I increase my own productivity to get more of what really matters done.